Disabled passenger's humiliation unacceptable, says Deaf SA

Cape Town - National Director for the Deaf Federation for South Africa Bruno Druchen says, "It is totally unacceptable and against the principles of the UN Convention on the rights of people with Disabilities, on which the SA government is one of the signatories, for Comair to have treated deaf and blind priest Cyril Axelrod the way they did."

A leading international advocate for deaf and blind people, Axelrod was prevented from speaking at a mass for the deaf on Sunday, after Comair staff refused to let him board a domestic flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg because he was flying alone.

Axelrod said he approached the Comair check-in counter at Cape Town International Airport on Saturday afternoon with a medical card that detailed his disabilities and confirmed he was able to fly alone. He was told by the flight’s captain that Comair policy would not allow him to fly unaccompanied.

Axelrod said he was prepared to show them how to help him and communicate with him but that staff were not supportive and uninterested.

"Comair should have provided assistance for Mr Axelrod’s flight to Johannesburg and an alternative arrangement and not left him stranded," said Druchen.

According to Druchen Article 9 of the UN convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities deals specifically with accessibility and states "To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility."

"The UN Convention is meant to protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity."

Comair spokesperson Susan van der Ryst said, “For the safety of the customer as well as fellow customers and crew, Comair requires customers who are deaf as well as blind to be escorted by a qualified person who can communicate with the customer in case of an emergency."

She said Axelrod had been made aware of this provision but had refused to pay for a trained assistant at the cost of another ticket. She said Comair would refund his ticket.

Druchen who is also deaf says travelling is difficult for people with disabilities.

"Announcements are made at the airports but no information is communicated that is an accessible form for deaf people to know what is happening."

"Flight information and announcements in the plane when travelling are also not accessible. Staff members are, in general, not trained on how to assist disabled passengers."

According to information found on local airline websites, all passengers with a medical condition or who are travelling with a disability are required to notify the airline beforehand, as well as check-in at least 90-minutes before departure.

News24 Travel has contacted Comair for an additional response but has not received an official statement as yet.

Are you disabled or do you know somebody who is disabled - tell us about your travel experiences by emailing info@news24travel.com

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